Sri Lanka coach, Graham Ford, said Nuwan Pradeep was unlucky to miss out on a five-wicket haul and a place on the Lord's honours board, given the quality of his bowling in the second innings. Pradeep finished with 3 for 37 from 15 overs, but had three clear chances missed off his bowling, and was also denied a wicket by an incorrect no-ball call.
Pradeep had England's highest scorer Alex Hales dropped on 19 by second slip on Saturday evening; Hales was reprieved off Pradeep's bowling again on 39, when a diving Dinesh Chandimal failed to hold on to a tough chance down the leg side. A much easier chance off Steven Finn was then missed by Chandimal next ball. Finally, on Sunday, Pradeep pegged back Hales' off stump when the batsman was on 58, but umpire Rod Tucker incorrectly ruled that Pradeep had overstepped. Hales said later that the no-ball call had not had a bearing on the stroke he played.
"It was disappointing that Nuwan Pradeep bowled so damn well and had such bad luck," Ford said. "If ever a guy deserved to get a five-wicket haul at Lord's, it was him. It's sad for him in many ways."
Pradeep is Sri Lanka's highest wicket-taker in the series, having claimed 10 scalps at an average of 31.6. Ford said the bowler had improved significantly since Ford's first, two-year stint as Sri Lanka coach - between 2012 and 2014 - when Pradeep first began to play Tests.
"He's certainly moved on a great deal since then. He's always been a guy that runs in hard and tries really hard. But he's now got more skill: he's got the ability to move the ball both ways. He's also got the ability to now assess conditions and make a decision on the types of lengths he should be hitting on a particular surface. He's grown a great deal as a bowler. He's come on in this series and I can't say enough about how well he bowled in the second innings."
Ford said Sri Lanka's seam unit had made gradual improvements during the series, but was nevertheless critical of their consistency. Sri Lanka conceded 17 runs in the first four overs of England's second innings, then allowed the hosts to move to 45 for 0 after 12 overs before finally breaking through.
"The seam group have improved, but there are areas where we've let ourselves down, and often the momentum gets lost," Ford said. "Yes there are one or two catches that could have made a difference as well. The way they went out today and really hit their areas was very, very pleasing. But I have told them that yesterday when we started, we did leak a few release balls that can really ease the pressure and settle the opposition dressing room."
In comparison, England bowled three consecutive maidens to begin day three. They took three wickets in the first eight overs of the day.
"We've got to be really ruthless at the start of sessions, as England were yesterday," Ford said. "They gave us nothing up front. After seven overs we had seven runs. That was a four down to third man and a three down to third man. Two nicks - that was all we got. We didn't get one release ball. That's why they are such a great bowling unit. We are showing signs of starting to get that sort of thing right."
Rangana Herath, Sri Lanka's second-highest wicket-taker in the series, had also had a wicket denied him by the umpires - when S Ravi turned down an lbw shout against Alastair Cook in the 49th over of England's innings. Had Sri Lanka reviewed that decision, it would have been overturned. Herath took 4 for 81 in the first innings.
"Rangana's just brilliant," Ford said. "He often bowls in conditions that don't really suit him, and to bowl as well as he did in the first innings here was amazing. I'm sure everyone appreciated watching the great skill and ability he has."
Sri Lanka's openers survived 12 overs of their second innings unscathed, and the team now requires 330 for victory on the final day. Ford suggested there was more to be gained from attempting the target, than there was to be lost in risking a whitewash.
"Very definitely we want to win the game," Ford said. "That's why we're here. Winning a match at Lord's is very special, and it would be a wonderful achievement and a huge growth within the group if we manage to do it. The boys are going to come in and try very hard.
"Great that we got through that really tricky session tonight. Hopefully the weather's great tomorrow and there are good batting conditions. If we get a good partnership up front, we've got the ball strikers to get busy and chase the target. We'll have to be positive, but that's the way the boys are going to go about their business anyway."